|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)|
Vegetarian World Forum
INAUGURATION AT MADRAS
THE organisers of the 15th World Vegetarian Congress have done me great honour indeed in asking me to inaugurate their sessions in Madras; and I am truly grateful to my esteemed friend and colleague, Shri M. Bhaktavatsalam, for having thought of me for the occasion. Madras is and will always be dear to my heart, and I shall ever cherish with joy and gratitude my association with this great State for very nearly five years. I had the privilege of receiving the greatest amount of kindness and hospitality at the hands of the good citizens of Madras during my years of office, and I cannot be sufficiently grateful to them for remembering me still, though I am now far away, and inviting me so affectionately to their functions.
I had occasion to be present at the inauguration of the first sessions of the Congress at Bombay by our respected President, Dr. Rajendra Prasad. I was happy to meet the delegates and visitors from other lands at that time, and it gives me very great pleasure indeed to renew my associations with them here again. We are all happy that the Congress is meeting in our country, and bringing back to us our own age-old message of Ahimsa - non-killing and harmlessness - which we have of late been in danger of forgetting, and doing so, too, in a very active and practical manner. We would do well to pay heed to what they have to say, and learn from them for our own behoof and betterment, all that they themselves are doing in this behalf.
We in India are doubtless no strangers to vegetarianism. There are many communities amongst us which are vegetarians by birth, and social and religious tradition, and any talk on the subject certainly sounds quite familiar to us all, whether vegetarians or not. We have, therefore, to be particularly grateful to men and women coming from other lands where, apart from a few persons who by conviction become vegetarians, the population eats meat without feeling that there is anything wrong in it, and even laughs at those who do not do so, or suggest that this should not be done. There is no moral or religious tradition among them, as there is among certain sections of our own people here, that meat eating is morally wrong. We are thankful to them for standing for vegetarianism, and trying to win over as many as possible to the good cause.
To my friends who have come from abroad for the first time, India will present strange contrasts; and the differing habits and beliefs of different castes and communities who are all regarded as belonging to the self-same Hindu faith, will particularly baffle them. Ordinarily, persons who are followers of one and the same religion, so designated, have similar beliefs, and have more or less common rules of conduct. That, however, is not so in our society. Whether we like it or not, throughout the ages that we have lived and evolved, we have been divided into various castes and creeds, though we all profess the same faith. These different castes and creeds have their own different standards of judgments of right and wrong. It thus happens that something that one community regards as wrong and wicked, may be regarded as quite right, proper and desirable by another. Thus there are communities in India which regard meat eating as absolutely improper, irreligious, immoral, while others think just the opposite, and see nothing bad in it. We in India, as a whole, are really non-vegetarian, though some friends from other lands may not know that. As, however, meat diet costs more than vegetarian, most of our people remain vegetarian. I remember a learned English economist telling me, as a result of his studies, that as soon as individuals or communities become prosperous, they take to meat eating. He was, therefore, greatly surprised when I told him that some of our own castes and sub-castes, members of which are among the wealthiest in the land-being persons belonging to the trading and mercantile communities are hereditarily vegetarian, who have never tasted meat, and individuals among whom are in constant danger of being ostracized if they use animal flesh for food.
APART from divisions of castes in the society as a whole, we also have divisions of an individual life in stages. What is regarded as right for one stage is not regarded as necessarily right for another stage. The same person, therefore, may be required to be a vegetarian when he is at one stage of life, say that of a student or recluse, while meat eating might be regarded as perfectly justifiable for him at other stages, like those of a householder and belonging to definite professions. All this might appear rather complicated and confusing to my friends from abroad, though to us it is all very intelligible since we have grown into it and it is a part of our life and nature, I felt however, that I should say all this not so much as a defence of our position, but as an explanation of facts as they are. The different communities in India are also, unfortunately, inclined to live in water-tight compartments, and, therefore, members of one may be total strangers to the habits and beliefs of members of another community. The particular community or sub-caste to which I am supposed to belong, is vegetarian by custom, faith and heredity; and it may surprise many friends to know that till I was about 15 years of age, I did not even know that anyone ate or could eat the flesh of animals for food, though it was being eaten in the neighbourhood and by friends of the family whom I was often meeting.
The problem of vegetarianism has to be looked at from many standpoints. It is not merely a question of not taking flesh of animals for food: it stands for a definite code of conduct, a way of life, and an attitude of mind. There are many persons in our country who are satisfied by the fact that they do not eat meat themselves. They feel that their duty is finished with that, and that, therefore, there is nothing that need trouble their consciences. It would not have mattered if things ended there. Many such vegetarians are inclined to lay the soothing unction to their souls that they themselves are very pious, righteous and good while those that are not vegetarians are necessarily evil folk. They are inclined to look down upon those who are not of their way of thinking, and withdraw into their own shells, so to say, feeling happy and pleased with themselves. This further leads to their being indifferent to what is actually going on in the world. They themselves do not take any active interest in the care and protection of animals; they do not see what is happening to these helpless creatures; and are in many ways unkind, even if that may only be indirectly. They cannot, however, divest themselves of responsibility for the evil that goes on unchecked around them.
We all know that there are many non-vegetarians who are really very kind to animals, and there are many vegetarians who are not so. Many persons, even if they are non-vegetarians, would take a dog, for instance to a veterinary hospital if it has been badly injured by a passing car while many vegetarians will not think doing anything of the sort, regarding that as being none of' their duty. There are, for instance, many societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals in India as elsewhere and I have personally found non-vegetarians to be far more active members of these organizations than vegetarians. It is not that vegetarians do not know that there are slaughter houses where animals are killed for man's food. It does not, however, occur to them to find out how these slaughter houses are run, and to try to minimize the suffering of animals that are taken to them.
IN countries where there is no talk of vegetarianism, there are persons actively engaged in seeing to it that even if animals have to be slaughtered for food, the least amount of pain is inflicted on them in the process. A pious vegetarian may not even think of a thing like this, for he might feel that the very idea would mean he was supporting non-vegetarianism. In many countries of the West, after close study with experience, they have minimized pain caused to animals at the time of slaughter, while in India things continue where they were, and we have horribly cruel methods and practices of killing animals. The pig is particularly subjected to intense torture. I also know how very cruelly the mithun is slaughtered in some of the Assam hills, and crocodiles by the boatmen of the sacred Ganga River, when they have a chance of catching one. I could multiply many examples. Matters become particularly difficult when religion is invoked in support of these practices. I have a distinct feeling that it is not enough for a vegetarian to be satisfied that he is so, but it is also his duty to see to it that animals are properly cared for and looked after, and that they are saved from bad treatment as far as possible. It is remarkable that though a number of non-vegetarians in the world protested against the dog, Laika, being put in the Russian Satellite No. 2, no protest was voiced by our own vegetarian friends in India. Many of them, I have no doubt, were just amused, and did not think any more about it.
Ours is supposed to be a land where a majority of the people worship the cow as a mother. Riots have not been unknown where human blood has been spilled, because a cow was slaughtered or was suspected to be slaughtered. Still, as a matter of fact, we do not take care of our cows as many non-vegetarian peoples do. Our cattle have been in a bad way, and if any improvement has come to them, it has been more through inspiration of foreign humanitarians than that of our own. All these things should make us sit up and think; and since this Congress is meeting in India, I should very much like our friends from abroad to shake us up out of our lethargy, and exhort us to adopt truly humanitarian ways of life and conduct. I know persons who would not hurt a fly or kill a mosquito, but would allow an animal, be it a dog or bull, to continue to suffer from disease or injured limbs in their neighbourhood without feeling that they have a duty by these unhappy members of the dumb creation who in their own way are so very useful and helpful to man.
We have really very carefully to see how animals are actually used in the field, the factory and the mines, and also how they are treated in slaughter houses, in medical laboratories or in temples where animal sacrifices are made, so that we might be able to find out first of all how their sufferings can be minimized, even if they must be made to suffer for real or fancied good of man, and also to see to it that there is no indiscriminate suffering inflicted either by slaughter or otherwise. I know there are many persons who are just satisfied that they themselves do not kill, but have no objection to other people killing. India is a land of snakes, for instance. They can be easily dangerous in the house where, I fear, for the safety of the inmates, they have to be killed.
It is, of course, futile to pursue snakes in the interior of forests and purposelessly kill them. There are many persons who would not kill a snake themselves, even if they were willing to take the necessary physical risk in doing so. They have, however, no objection to other people killing them. This attitude, to my mind, is not right, because it makes us really callous, even if our outward conduct appears to be correct.
I AM not one of those who think that a person who eats meat is necessarily more unkind than the person who does not. The fact is that most persons buy their meat in the market exactly as vegetarians buy their fruits and vegetables. Many persons eat meat by force of habit. They would not be able to kill their own meat if they were asked to do so. I remember a movement in England; when I was there as a student over 45 years ago, Where some kind-hearted ladies were trying to get signatures from persons pledging themselves that if they ate meat, they would kill it themselves. I fear none but confirmed vegetarians, like myself, signed the pledge, and the movement could not proceed much further. When one buys butcher's meat in the market, one does not think of the cruelty attached to the obtaining of that meat any more than the vegetarian thinks of the possible sufferings of cattle and men in producing his food, wading knee-deep in slush and mire or waste-deep in water in the most unhealthy surroundings in doing so. The vegetarian also does not worry to think that numberless moths and insects have been killed to protect the rice or wheat crops or mango and guava groves from their ravages. Thus, it would be futile to say that a vegetarian is necessarily more kind than a non-vegetarian. It may just as well be the other way round. There may be strict vegetarians who, in their business dealings, are so harsh as to bring about sorrow and suffering to fellow men. There may be many non-vegetarians who may be dealing with their clients and customers in a much less severe manner. Thus, we must forbear from making a fetish of anything. We must take human nature as it Is under consideration and try to improve it as best possible, and also to take a balanced view of things and avoid all extremes.
I am sorry to have to confess that after such. sad experience as I have had of life in different places and under different conditions, I have come to the unhappy conclusion that it would perhaps never be possible for all human beings in the world to be vegetarians, and that animals will continue to be slaughtered for food by human beings. It is, therefore, incumbent on the vegetarian to study the problems involved with great care and attention, and not to neglect it as something with which he has nothing to do. He has everything to do with it. If he studies the conditions in slaughterhouses and other places where animals are subjected to pain and death for the supposed good of man, he may be able to suggest improvements which will minimize the suffering of animals on the one hand, and rouse the consciences of the masses of people, on the other, so that it may be that they would, as far as possible, give up the eating of flesh, and take intensive cultivation of foodgrains. We cannot forget that the population of the world is growing, and that food produced in the fields at present is not enough for the sustenance of all. That also presents a problem which, as practical men and women, we cannot afford to neglect.
The tragedy of the situation is that mostly non-vegetarians eat vegetarian animals. Sheep, goats, cattle, deer, rabbits, doves, partridges, pigeons and other animals and birds that are used for food are all vegetarians. Perhaps the animal that is very extensively used for food, but which is not a vegetarian, is the fish. Then there is the chicken which, though predominantly vegetarian does not spare insects. It has been computed that more acres of land are necessary to maintain the non vegetarian than the vegetarian, for food has to be provided, even if it may be in the nature of only wild grass to the animals that the non vegetarian lives on. While sentiment and idealism are important matters, and without them man's life would become drab and meaningless still we have to take into active and constant consideration the varied factors that actual life presents and minimize its ugliness and enhance its beauty as much as it is possible for us so to do as understanding, sympathetic, sentient human beings. We have also to draw the line somewhere. It would not, for instance, do to say that when we have no objection to eating fruits and vegetables that too have life, or drink water that too is full of life as the microscope shows, there is no harm in killing any animals for food or ill-treating them in diverse ways. In India, milk is included in vegetarian diet, though it has to be taken from the living cow, buffalo or goat. In fact, it forms a very important part of the food of all those vegetarians who can afford it. Eggs are regarded as non-vegetarian by the orthodox. Some persons who eat meat avoid eggs, saying that that involves the killing of the embryo and is, therefore, sin. Many persons do not take garlic or onion regarding these as being allied to meat. The problem obviously bristles with difficulties and good men and women in a Vegetarian Congress assembled have to take decisions as to how far we should go, and tell us what we can do, and what we must not do.
It may be dangerous to adopt the principle of those good women of England to whom I have referred above, that those who eat meat must themselves kill the animals they eat. The uninstructed and uninitiated may inflict more suffering on the animal in the process than the expert butcher. Let me refer here to the rather unhappy and unsavoury subject of execution of human beings for particular types of crimes. In various countries and even States of our land, there are professional hangmen, whose services are called for when there is any hanging to be done. There are other States where this is left to the subordinate employees of the jail themselves who are laymen. If I am not mistaken, the death of the condemned prisoner occurs very much quicker when he is hanged by the professional than that of the person who is left to those whose business it is not, as their hands tremble and nerves fail in doing the sad duty. Such will also be the fate of animals if those who do not know the process take to killing them. The profession of a butcher is an unfortunate one, but it will have, I fear, to be maintained if man feels he must eat the flesh of animals for food. Let me also say that there are persons who are very fond of shooting animals for what is called sport, but who are vegetarians themselves. Not all hunters need to be non-vegetarians, nor are all animals killed only for food. This also presents a problem that vegetarians have to ponder over.
To me it seems that we have to approach this difficult problem from two standpoints, and for two definite implied purposes. One is to make sure of how much killing is really necessary for the needs of human beings, whether that be for purposes o food, medicine, safety or sport. The purpose of such a study would be to minimize suffering to the largest possible extent, and also to curtail as far as possible the need for killing. In other words, we should make sure not to kill more than is absolutely necessary, and then to kill in a manner that may inflict the least amount of pain on the victim. This will instill in an ever-increasing measure, the spirit of true compassion, and help in the realization of the unity of life, and the bounden duty of all to respect the same. Let us not forget that we can all take life, but none of us can give it; and ordinarily speaking, we must not take what we cannot give back in some way or another.
The other standpoint is of studying the needs and requirements of human beings so that there may be equitable co-ordination of the welfare of man and animal alike. We have sedulously to avoid hypocrisy and unctuosity; and whatever is done should be done in a manner that we all (whether vegetarians or not) could and should take full responsibility for the same. If, for instance, we have slaughter houses in a city, vegetarians also are as much responsible for their existence as non-vegetarians, and they must be prepared to acknowledge this. Then only will they work for the improvement of the conditions in slaughter houses, and may be their ultimate abolition. Otherwise, slaughter houses will remain for ever, unattended and unreformed. I remember to have read in some file as Governor of Madras, the statement of a responsible officer based on experience, that a visit to a slaughter house will make anyone a vegetarian. Vegetarians have to learn from this verdict; and a little looking into the slaughter houses may help their cause very much better than avoiding doing so. Though my public duties in the course of a fairly long life have taken me to many places, I must confess I have myself never had the strength and courage to visit a slaughter house. I can, therefore, only speak from imagination and experience of others. I fear I, along with numerous others, including non-vegetarians, would never be able to visit a slaughter house; and I must here pay a tribute to all reformers who go there and help in bettering conditions for our poor innocent dumb brethren o f the animal world.I have purposely avoided speaking about the relative values for human beings of vegetarian and non-vegetarian diet. First of all, I am not competent to do so, and then I believe it is generally agreed that a balanced diet is helpful for the health 'and strength of human bodies; and that in the matter of vitamins, proteins and calories a vegetarian diet can be as good as a non-vegetarian one. Carelessness in the matter is harmful whether the food chosen is of one variety or the other. We here are not assembled so much to discuss the relative values of various types of food; we have essentially and primarily come together to preach and to implement in our own lives; the great doctrine of compassion, and to spread the spirit that underlies it - true and active affection, sympathy and consideration for both man and animal. When this spirit spreads in the world, and permeates the hearts of all men and women, we shall not hear of the many conflicts that are threatened on all hands in the world of to-day. We shall not hear any more of the hydrogen bomb or other engines of destruction: We shall only hear of the results of the great researches in science carried on without inflicting needless suffering on any living creatures in the name of experiment, being used only for the good of living beings. We shall, thus, be able to make the world a better place to live in than it is to-day. Vegetarians will not then, whether in India or elsewhere, be satisfied merely with the fact that they themselves are vegetarians and take no life for their food, but will be truly instilled with the spirit of compassion 'and brotherhood, and will work earnestly for the great cause they represent. They, to my mind, are best fitted to take the lead in building the world of the future: and as I now formally inaugurate the Madras sessions of the 15th World Vegetarian Congress, I express the fond and fervent hope that its efforts would result in giving to all' living beings on Earth - men and animals alike – the truest and the highest freedom - Abhaya, freedom from all fear.